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Using Isotopes to Measure Temperatures

Classroom/Laboratory Activity

A classroom/ laboratory activity titled, ‘From Isotopes to Temperature: Working With A Temperature Equation’ from Starting Point by Dorien McGee, University of South Florida, USA, that uses oxygen isotopic data from corals and sea water as a proxy for determining ocean temperatures.

This activity includes isotope and ocean temperature data in an Excel spreadsheet and a PowerPoint Presentation with detailed instructions and equations. It further includes questions that you may wish to use in your classroom to introduce different oxygen isotopes, methods of data collection and how isotopic data can be used to reconstruct average ocean temperatures.

Students will learn basic concepts in both Chemistry and Earth Sciences related to isotopes, isotopic ratios, and the temperature equation.

Use this tool to help your students find answers to:

  1. Define ‘isotopes’.
  2. What can the ratio of oxygen isotopes found in corals tell us about the ocean temperature on a geological timescale?
  3. What does the correlation coefficient between oxygen isotopes and current ocean temperature
    tell us about the efficiency of using corals for statistical analysis?
About Tool
Tool Name From Isotopes to Temperature: Working With A Temperature Equation 
Discipline Chemistry, Earth Sciences 
Topic(s) in Discipline Atomic Number, Atomic Mass, Hydrosphere, Isotopes, Oxygen Isotopes, SMOW, Isotopic Ratios, δ18O, Correlation, Regression, Oceanography, Paleontology, Marine Geology
Climate Topic Climate and the Hydrosphere, Climate Variability Record
Type of tool Classroom/Laboratory Activity 
Grade Level Undergraduate
Location Global
Language English
Translation      –
Developed by Dorien McGee, University of South Florida, USA
Hosted at Starting Point: Teaching Entry Level Geoscience 
Access Online, Offline 
Computer Skills Basic


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